Muscle Memory and Steno

While I'm on the subject of becoming a master of one's craft, I have to share a video of famed violinist Jascha Heifetz, who is precisely that -- a master of his craft. I stumbled upon this while researching how his name was spelled when it came up in a dictation. His first name, for the record, is pronounced YA/SHA, so that's how I wrote it. Thank goodness for Google!

Start at 3:48 if you want to see something truly amazing. Just watch how the hand on the neck moves. He would have made an awesome court reporter!

I think this video demonstrates just how important good muscle memory is to both a stenographer and a world-class violinist. Imagine just how many countless hours of repetition and practicing went into perfecting this piece! Because court reporters don't have the luxury of taking the exact same dictation every time on the job, there are slight differences in the way a violinist practices for a performance and how a court reporter or student practices for a test or deposition or CART job, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Muscle memory, as defined by Wikipedia "is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition.  When a movement is repeated over time, a long term muscle memory is created for that task; eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.  This process decreases the need for attention and creates maximum efficiency within the motor and memory systems."

Muscle memory is so powerful that court reporting students must be conscious of their practice technique and be careful not to practice slop for too long. While musicians practice until they hit a sour note and then stop and do it over until they get it right, I still say the CR student should slop before drop in test taking situations. However, the bulk of a steno student's practice time still needs to be spent making good, clean strokes to build muscle memory for perfect outlines.

After you go through the super-fast blazing dictation once and "let your fingers fly," my teacher would say, go back over your notes or realtime transcript and practice just the words you messed up or hesitated on and those immediately before the trouble spots until they're automatic. Then use your VSP to slow it down and do it again, this time focusing on accuracy. Bump it up; slow it down, and write the take at at least three different speed levels. You've seen the P90X infomercials, right? This is classic muscle confusion, while still bringing it down to realtime speed to maintain accuracy and reinforce good muscle memory. A delicate balance, it is. Run, don't walk to your steno machines!